In response to the city of Eugene’s proposed “paid sick days” ordinance, the Lane County Commission has proposed three of its own ordinances. After voting 4-0 to move forward with the ordinances on July 8, the Board of Commissioners will have an emergency meeting the morning of July 21, before the Eugene City Council’s public hearing is set to take place.
The first proposed county ordinance seeks to exempt any unit of local government in Lane County such as Lane County employees from the ordinance proposed by the city, the second to exempt any employer outside of Eugene from the ordinance and the third to preemptively eliminate any other resolution, ordinance or rule from affecting any employers in Lane County.
Originally, the first ordinance was to stand alone until Commissioner Jay Bozievich added the other two. During the Board of Commissioners meeting July 8, Bozievich said he is not against paid time off. “What I’m against is the mandating of it and a municipality or a government entity exceeding their authority breaching both Oregon constitutional requirements around contracts and exceeding their authority as a board of health and trying to act as the board of health when they don’t have that authority.”
Laurie Trieger, campaign manager for “Everybody Benefits Eugene,” the campaign pushing for paid sick days, says that the July 8 discussion was rushed and put together while Commissioner Pete Sorenson was out of the country on vacation. “The fact that so many powerful people would work so hard to block something so modest is significant,” Trieger says.
During the commission meeting, County Administrator Steve Mokrohisky told the commissioners that Sorenson expressed his support for Eugene’s proposed ordinance.
Trieger says that under Oregon state law the paid sick days ordinance can only cover private sector workers. “It’s really redundant and unnecessary for the county to be doing this,” Trieger says.
City Councilor Claire Syrett agrees, saying that the City Council had communicated with the County Commission that it expected the ordinance to change its language to exempt employees of Lane County after the public hearing on July 21.
Yet, in a July 8 email to EW commission Chair Pat Farr writes that the ordinances are “precautionary to ensure that administrative rules to be adopted and amended later by the city of Eugene do not preclude Lane County’s home rule (charter) provision.”
Trieger says Farr has been among those opposed to the paid sick leave ordinance despite the more than 3,000 letters signed in support of the ordinance by people in Eugene, many of whom reside in Farr’s district. “It gives some commissioners the opportunity to make some pretty grand anti-labor and anti-working-family statements,” Trieger says.
The Eugene sick day ordinance and the opposing county ordinances are heading for a collision course that could end in legal action, a possibility that Bozievich recognized in a recent Register-Guard article.
“There’s nothing responsible to me to deliberately support an ordinance that will land you in court,” Syrett says. “Elected officials should try to avoid that.”
Trieger agreed, saying that Boziviech was not only playing with people’s lives, “He’s playing with our valuable, limited public resources at the same time by admitting this could be opened to legal challenge and that he welcomes that.”
Despite the dispute the proposed city ordinance has caused in Lane County, seven other cities, including Portland, and one state have already adopted similar ordinances showing Eugene good examples of what could come.
“It never really occurred to me that the county would view this as an overreach,” Syrett says. “I don’t feel like we’re doing anything so out of the box that it requires some two-year process or some other lengthy process.”
The City Council will meet on July 21 and will be holding a public meeting regarding the Eugene sick day ordinance where Syrett expects changes to be made to the ordinance depending on the testimony. The council is scheduled to possibly act on the ordinance after a work session on July 28.